City's zoo from hell

More charges are to be laid against the East London Zoo by the national council of SPCAs (NSPCA) following the death of a female gibbon monkey called Peanut who died of TB and may have been infected by humans.


Peanut died in her enclosure on July 2, four months after her mate died of the disease and following an NSPCA request she be euthanased after she was found to be a TB carrier. Further contraventions of the Animal Protection Act would be added to the charges, NSPCA wildlife protection unit national inspector Cassandra MacDonald said.

BCM spokesman Samkelo Ngwenya said “legal recourse was welcomed” because the zoo had nothing to hide.

The new charges follow after a male Chacma baboon called “William” was put down in May after MacDonald found him suffering from paralysis in his hind legs. When a warning that the baboon be examined by a vet was not complied with, William was euthanased on site because his condition had deteriorated to the point where his open wounds became infected and infested with maggots. MacDonald said that during her unannounced inspection visit in May she had drawn up several contraventions to the Animal Protection Act and had issued the zoo with a list of directives to rectify the following:

lHoles in enclosure fencing meant that humans could touch primates. There was a “high possibility” of the spread of zoonotic diseases, which can be spread from humans to animals – and vice versa. “For example, primates can contract TB from humans and the gibbons were most likely infected by their handlers or members of the public”;

  • Enclosures do not offer the right environment for animals to express their natural behaviour because they are too small, not well furnished, very bare and had little to keep the animals physically and mentally stimulated. Some furniture was broken and a hazard;
  • Many enclosures were overgrown with little sunlight;
  • Animals with severe fly strike in which flies eat away at animals’ ears, with the wolves being an example of this;
  • Insufficient safety barriers between humans and animals. “I saw people stroking the jaguar,” MacDonald said;
  • An over 50-year-old capuchin monkey called “Smoochie” has to be moved from near the noisy children’s train area. “I would suggest he be removed and taken off display to a more comfortable enclosure because all sides of his cage are open and there are no safety barriers”;
  • Animals displaying “stereotypical behaviour” due to lack of stimulation. This included rubbing against cages in the same spot, pacing and licking paws.

In addition MacDonald said she had requested that vets clarify the condition of a number of animals, but said the zoo had not been very forthcoming in sending all these reports to the NSPCA. “I have had to source vets’ reports myself.”

She said an NSPCA inspector had returned to the zoo last Friday to check on the status of the directives and issued a further warning.

When a Daily Dispatch team visited the East London Zoo which dates back to the 1930s, on Monday morning, it was clear that the ageing infrastructure with its unkempt plant beds and outdated, decaying enclosures, many long-abandoned, needed to be hoisted into the 21st century.

The Dispatch found:

  • Smoochee the elderly capuchin monkey scampering around his small enclosure, slapping himself repeatedly on the shoulder. He had not been moved away from his display near the children’s play area;
  • Barriers between humans and animals like jackals, white lions, Smoochie and a jaguar appeared to be inadequate;
  • The jaguar, which is kept in a small enclosure, was rubbing against its fence just 40cm from visitors and then resorted to sucking its front paw;
  • A bored-looking chimp lobbed a sweet potato and a chunk of carrot at the Dispatch team;
  • The ears of three timber wolves, who live in a sliver of an enclosure, were ravaged by flies;
  • Two lions paced listlessly behind vertical electrical cables suspended from rusted beams, supposedly meant to be a barrier, as a visiting child screamed at them;
  • A lone baboon in a cement enclosure scratched in a puddle before picking intently at the fence that surrounded her; and
  • A Hamdryas baboon thrashed frustratingly at canvas strips in an enclosure.

Members of the public posting on the Pets Lost and Found Facebook page have been stridently vocal about conditions in the zoo and have called for it to be shut down, but Ngwenya said “a group of people” were “sensationalising tragic situations as part of their smear campaign to close down the zoo”.

Ngwenya said there were plans to improve a number of enclosures this financial year and that the iguana, a primate enclosure and the wild dog enclosures would be revamped.

“We have been openly and honestly working with every organisation that comes in good faith to solve some of the challenges in our zoo.” He said a hole in an enclosure had been fixed.

Safety issues are also a concern. On Sunday afternoon a woman visitor was stabbed in the arm and robbed of her handbag in front of four young children. Ngwenya said the mugging was “very serious and unfortunate” and would be taken up with the security cluster. —

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